Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

31 December 2008

And you thought writing was hard?

British artist Willard Wigam is a microsculptor. His sculptures are so small that they can fit on the head of a pin, or inside the eye of a needle, or sometimes even on a human hair. He has to be careful when creating his art: He lost one piece, he thinks, by inhaling it.

For an interview, visit For pictures of his sculptures, go to

Believe it or not, Wigam is not the world's only microsculptor. The late Egyptian musician Hagop Sandaldjian turned to microsculpture in his later years. At right are five birds sitting on a baby hair balanced on the eye end of a needle. You can see more of his amazing work at

May 2009 be a happy and successful year for you, and may all your books be bestsellers!

23 December 2008

Death the revelator

With its bare trees, long, cold nights, memories of Christmases past, and avalanche of holiday cards bearing good and bad news, late December is a dark and bittersweet time.

I hesitate opening the Christmas cards. They may contain good news about a marriage or a new baby. But as we get older, they more often contain bad news about someone who is fatally ill or has died.

Yesterday I opened a padded envelope to find a CD and a note from the wife of a friend who died eight years ago. Our friend was a music editor and composer, and the CD was a recording of some of his chamber music—but not any of the music he was known to have composed.

And so I learned a 30-year-old secret. I had played the very pieces on the CD, but the publisher had attributed them to an obscure German composer of the 1800s. The printed music contained a long description of the discovery of the pieces, a bio of the composer, and commentary on the pieces themselves, all written by the editor, who happened to be our friend.

Our friend’s wife had now chosen to reveal to a few people that our friend had written the music himself in what became an elaborate practical joke on his publisher.

I’m leaving out the entertaining—and identifying—details to keep the secret going. But after a few minutes of sadness that our friend had died so young, I listened to the CD with great pleasure, happy to have a new memory of him and to be in on the joke at last.

After my father died last February, my stepmother revealed to my siblings and me that my father, too, had had a secret: He could use a computer. In fact, he even had a PayPal account and bid on things on eBay.

The four of us were flabbergasted. My father rarely cussed, but when he did, it usually was about the computer he had been forced to have at work (and which precipitated his retirement). He hated the things and vehemently rejected all our offers to help him become computer savvy. We learned to stop offering.

Apparently as the years passed, he realized it would be useful to check his investments and do other things online. Too embarrassed to admit to his kids that he wanted to learn to use a computer after all, he swore our stepbrother and stepmother to secrecy, and they got him up to speed.

After getting over our shock, my siblings and I had a good laugh and another good memory of our father to savor.

Do you have any secrets that when you are gone will entertain your family and friends and ease their grief?

18 December 2008

Taking the bitter with the sweet

The sweet

I’ve sold a novel!

Speculative fiction publisher Hadley Rille Books will publish a series of historical novels set in archaeologically important times and written by archaeologists. (I squeezed in because I’ve worked on archaeological digs and have a Ph.D. in the sister discipline of anthropology.) Although these books will not be speculative fiction, the publisher does want them to induce the same sense of wonder that spec fic does.

My novel, tentatively called Like Mayflies in a Stream, takes place in Uruk, the largest city in Sumer, during the reign of Gilgamesh. The novel’s heroine is Shamhat, a priestess of Inanna (later known as Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite, and Venus). I sold the novel on proposal, so I still have to write it.

I first fell in love with ancient Sumer in high school and took classes in college in Mesopotamian archaeology and art with top-notch scholars in those areas. I’m really looking forward to writing this novel, and if I write fast enough, it may be out by the end of 2009.

Although this is my third published book, it’s my first novel. I’m at last a novelist! Thank you, Hadley Rille and Eric Reynolds!

The bitter

My cat, Dulcinea, died early Saturday morning of pancreatitis and an undiagnosed lung disorder. She would have turned 17 on December 20th. She wasn’t a constant writer’s helper like her brother, Susato. But she was sweet and extremely smart. She loved to sunbathe and followed the sun from room to room. She also loved to wash Susato and my husband’s legs.


Last week’s contest

Farrah Rochon won a copy of the Hadley Rille anthology Return to Luna in my contest last week. Congratulations, Farrah! Disappointed nonwinners can buy a copy at

06 December 2008

Contest! And a short story published!

My short story “Coyote and the Gamblers” is in the anthology Return to Luna (Hadley Rille Books), which was released December 5. All stories in the anthology illustrate the same theme: What will life be like for the first moon colonists?

In my story, Pueblo Indians who had left Earth in tears 50 years earlier to build a moon colony for another tribe now want to stay on the moon and have to figure out how to do so.

Return to Luna will be available online at a discount at Hadley Rille Books and at full price at

CONTEST: One person will be drawn at random to win the book from those who comment on this post. To enter, post a comment that includes one essential you would take to the moon. The ten entries I enjoy the most will be entered twice. The contest ends by December 13 (a week from today) at 11:59 pm Pacific time.

03 December 2008

Share the joy of books

The ladies of The Writing Group Blog—Lynne Griffin, Amy MacKinnon, Lisa Marnell, and Hannah Roveto—are encouraging people to buy books as holiday presents to help independent bookstores survive and to support the industry many of us are trying to make a living in.

They’ve even come up with these three pretty images that they welcome you to post on your own blog.

Almost everyone on my Christmas list (as well as those with birthdays around the holidays) is getting books. How about you?

Carleen Brice of the Pajama Gardener blog is also urging people to buy books as Christmas gifts this year. To help and encourage everyone to read books by black authors and to give them as gifts, she has started a second blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors, at Each Tuesday, she posts about books by black authors that white readers should try out.

Carleen's post last week is especially interesting to many readers of For Love of Words because Carleen’s topic is science fiction, fantasy, and horror by black authors.

Carleen even made a video for her crusade:

I bought some books to give as presents that I found through the recommendations on White Readers Meet Black Authors (and I found a bunch that I’d like to read myself).

Happy shopping! I hope you discover some reading treats for yourself as well.

26 November 2008

Historical fiction author Dianne Ascroft

Nonfiction writer Dianne Ascroft published her first novel this year, a historical set during and after World War II. Hitler and Mars Bars (Trafford Publishing) is the story of a lonely German orphan boy rescued by Operation Shamrock and taken to Ireland, where he must face more than the ordinary challenges of growing up.

Welcome, Dianne, and congratulations on the publication of your first novel!

Thank you! I’m pleased to be here today.

Although Canadian, you live in on a farm in Northern Ireland. That sounds very isolated. Have you found a community of writers there or a critique group, or are you completely on your own as a writer? How do you do your research?

There are quite a few writers in the county where I live, and we are loosely connected to each other through the Fermanagh Authors Association. The main aims of the group are to promote our work, individually and as a group, and to publish group anthologies. The Association doesn’t devote much time at meetings to critiquing each other’s work so I am on my own in that respect. That is one aspect of a traditional writers group that I miss.

There was a lot of research involved in writing Hitler and Mars Bars. Although the book is set only sixty years ago, it was before I was born so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the era. I did a lot of background reading about Germany and Ireland during that period. They were two very different countries—Germany a battle-scarred, industrialized nation and Ireland a quiet, mostly rural place. I read general histories as well as biographies.

I couldn’t find much information about the Irish Red Cross initiative, Operation Shamrock, except a chapter in one book about German-Irish relations after World War II and an RTE, Irish television documentary exploring the German children’s experiences in Ireland. So I had to do my own research. I spoke to people in the communities that hosted the children—the former evacuees, their foster families, their neighbours, their classmates, their friends, and the local clergy. I also requested information from the Hattingen Archives in Germany about the children’s lives during the war.

Period photographs, from both countries, were important to allow me to see what life was like and to get details such as how they dressed and what certain machinery looked like. Photographs helped me understand some of the information I found in my background reading.

Whenever possible I visited the places where I set the story. I wanted to get an overall impression of the areas. During these visits I often spotted little details that brought the place to life when I wrote about it.

Writing a historical novel takes a lot of research. How do you know when it’s time to stop researching and start writing?

I think the two go hand in hand. Even once you start writing you are always checking details and doing that little bit more reading to make things clearer. When I began my research, Ireland and Germany sixty years ago were completely foreign worlds to me. Though it involved more time and effort than I’d envisioned before I started, I tried to be as thorough with my research as I could. I have to admit that I didn’t really mind as I found the research fascinating. Sometimes I had to tear myself away from it to write.

Before I could begin writing I needed a good background knowledge of the historic events that related to my story and the era in general. Once I had a clear understanding of what was happening in both countries at the time, I was able to write about it. I spent a year doing the initial research before I started writing. As I’ve said, I continued to research as I wrote. There were always details that I needed to find—when was electricity installed in rural Ireland, how much was a farm labourer paid, what year was Dublin’s main street named O’Connell Street, how old were boys when they began to wear long trousers. The list of details that occurred to me as I wrote is almost endless, so the research was never done. But I did get to a point during the initial research when I felt I knew enough about life in the era to begin writing about it.

What was your favorite part of writing Hitler and Mars Bars?

As I’ve said, I really enjoyed the research. Some of the background reading I did was fascinating. I read quite a few biographies and autobiographies and loved learning about these German and Irish people’s lives. Ireland sixty years ago was so different from the Ireland that I live in. It was like stepping into another world. Memoirs such as Alice Taylor’s To School Through The Fields, Bryan Gallagher’s Barefoot In Mullyneeny, Sean McElgunn’s Charleyhorse Rider, and William K. Parke’s A Fermanagh Childhood opened up a new world for me. It was so absorbing that I had to drag myself away from it to write.

Once I did drag myself away from my reading, I loved getting the story down on paper. Initially writing each scene, before the revising and editing begins, is exhilarating. I can see the story in my head, almost like watching a film. Then I write down what I imagine. Although it will need editing later, the words just flow at this stage. It’s exciting to see the first draft of each scene finished and added to the manuscript.

Can you tell us more about Operation Shamrock? Do you consider it a success or a failure?

Operation Shamrock was an Irish Red Cross project, in co-operation with the German Save The Children Society, which helped hundreds of children recover from the deprivation in post-war Germany. After the Second World War conditions in Europe, including Germany, were appalling and many people were near starvation. Ireland was one of the first countries to send donations of money and goods to the damaged country. Irish people were particularly moved by the plight of the children, and, as a result, the German Save The Children Society was formed in October 1945. Its stated aim was to bring German children to Ireland to save them from starvation.

In March 1946 the Irish Red Cross, on behalf of both organisations, applied to the Allied Control Council to bring one hundred German children to Ireland. The request was approved on 31st May. On 27th July, 1946, the first eighty-eight children arrived. By April 1947 over four hundred children, aged between three and fifteen, were in Ireland. Most of them came from the devastated Ruhr area, which had been heavily bombed by the Allies during the war.

On arrival the children were taken to the Red Cross Centre at Glencree, Co Wicklow, where they were cared for by nurses and Red Cross workers. Malnutrition and other health problems were treated, and when their health improved sufficiently they were placed with foster families. Each child was fostered by a family of the same faith as himself. The children received good care and nourishing food. Most of these children formed strong bonds with their foster families and many were loath to leave them when the time came to return home.

At the end of the planned duration of the three-year project, between April and September 1949, most of the children were returned to their families in Germany. They returned home healthy and happy though many missed their foster families. Approximately fifty children, for various reasons, remained in Ireland permanently.

I would consider the project a resounding success. Its stated aim was to save German children from starvation in the aftermath of the war. Over 400 of these children were brought to Ireland and cared for. There were very few reports of mistreatment. The children were well fed and cared for. They returned home much healthier than when they arrived in Ireland. The Red Cross did exactly what they set out to do and many children, who may not have done so in their homeland, survived and thrived. Operation Shamrock was a very worthwhile humanitarian aid initiative.

Did your experience writing nonfiction for newspapers and magazines help or hurt when you began writing a novel?

A bit of both, really. My experience researching articles, as well as my history studies at university, taught me how to do the research I needed for my novel. I was well prepared to get my material together. But then I had to learn to let go and fictionalise the facts I had. Because the story is loosely based on real events, I wanted to portray Operation Shamrock accurately. So sometimes I hesitated when I moved the storyline away from the real events.

You chose to self-publish Hitler and Mars Bars with Trafford Publishing. What did Trafford do to market your book? What are you doing to market it?

Trafford’s active marketing efforts focus on the book’s release. They send out press releases to their mailing list, announcing the release. They are able to reach a larger circle then I would be able to do. In their ongoing program they provide a Webpage for the book, in their online catalogue, which includes information about the book, the author and review excerpts. Additionally the author can choose to list the title in printed catalogues and/or have the book displayed with other Trafford titles at major book fairs, including the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Trafford’s marketing program is a general one. I have had to target specialised groups that fall outside their standard contacts list myself.

Hitler and Mars Bars has been released for just over six months now, so I’m still finding out where best to target it. But I know that personal recommendations are important for any market. Nothing can beat them. Positive reviews and comments from others in the writing world and the media are vital for my marketing efforts. So, before I undertook any promotional activities, I sought reviewers. I received favourable reviews from many regional newspapers as well as a Belfast daily paper, The News Letter, and the BBC broadcaster and journalist Brian D’Arcy. I quote from them in my publicity material; their comments have been very beneficial to my marketing campaign.

I approach my marketing in manageable segments—moving outwards in ever widening circles. Initially I concentrated on the counties of Ireland where most of the book is set. Now I’m widening the circle to include the rest of Ireland and Irish communities elsewhere. I sent press releases to the media, especially the newspapers, to encourage them to write articles about the book. As soon as they printed articles I contacted bookshops and libraries in the area to offer the book for sale. The media coverage is crucial to arouse interest. Many people won’t buy a book if they haven’t heard of it. Even if they see it sitting on the shelf and it seems appealing, it won’t tempt them unless they know something about it.

The Internet is also very important to my promotion efforts. It gives me the opportunity to publicise the book to a much broader audience around the world than I would have direct access to. So I have a Website and a blog, and I am always willing to visit other sites to talk about Hitler and Mars Bars. And because the material stays on the Internet indefinitely, the entries on these sites will continue to publicise the book for me.

So I have found that a combination of targeting specific markets where the book is particularly relevant and trying to reach the broader reading public is a good strategy for me.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

As is the case for many writers, writing has never been my primary occupation. I’ve always held a day job and written in the evenings after my household and farm chores are completed. I don’t manage to write every evening but I usually spend a couple hours, several evenings each week, writing. I’m up early each morning, but I have chores to do so I don’t manage to do any writing before I leave for the office. I do carry with me the piece I’m currently working on and spend any quiet times during the day revising it. When I sit down to write later, I look over what I’ve already done and then continue on. On the weekends, after the chores are done, I also spend as much time as possible writing—that’s usually no more than a couple hours at a time.

I would love to spend more time writing but I have to balance it with the rest of my life. I would advise aspiring writers to spend as much time as they can writing. If they don’t have a lot of time available, then plan ahead carefully so that writing time will be spent writing and not organising files or thinking about what to write. With organisation you can make the most of your writing time even if it isn’t as much time as you would like to have.

What will your next novel be about?

When I finished writing Hitler and Mars Bars I didn’t know what would happen to Erich next. But about a week after I finished writing ideas started popping into my head, and Erich’s future started to take shape. So I would like to write a sequel to Hitler and Mars Bars. It would begin in 1955, when this book ends, and probably continue through the rest of Erich’s teens and into his twenties. I have some definite ideas about what I would like to see happen in the next book—but I’m not giving anything away yet!

Thanks again, Dianne.

It was my pleasure, Shauna. Thanks for hosting me!

You can learn more about Dianne and Hitler and Mars Bars by visiting her Website at and her blog at Her book is available from Trafford Press and


I’ll be speaking on “Myth and Folktales in Science Fiction and Fantasy” at the Orange County Science Fiction Club on Wednesday, November 26 (the night before Thanksgiving), at 7:30 in Fullerton, California. Everyone is welcome to come. For directions, please see

18 November 2008

Debut fantasy author Leslie Ann Moore

Leslie Ann Moore’s first novel, the fantasy Griffin’s Daughter (Avari Press), was awarded the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Award for First Fiction by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Griffin’s Daughter is the story of a half-human, half-elf woman and her struggle to find her place while, unbeknown to her, an ancient evil has awakened and plans to use her to destroy the world.

Welcome, Leslie Ann, and congratulations on the publication of your first novel!

Thanks for having me, Shauna.

Could you tell my readers about the encounter with fantasy author Terry Brooks that changed your life?

In 2001, I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books specifically to hear Mr. Brooks speak on a panel of fantasy writers. He discussed his creative process and recommended that every writer own and read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, one of the best books on writing available. The book deals with how to use mythic structure to create strong plots and characters.

He then talked about how he’d written his first published novel, The Sword Of Shannara, while still in law school. It took him many years and several best-selling novels before he could give up practicing law and become a full-time writer, but the point that I remember best is that he did it . . . he successfully transitioned from making his living as a lawyer to making his living as a writer. A light went on in my head . . . I thought, well, why can’t I do the same?

After the talk, I took a copy of one of his novels to get it signed. When my turn came, he politely asked me what I did for a living, and it seemed as if my mouth had a life of its own! Instead of saying “I’m a vet,” I blurted out, “I’m a fantasy writer, like you!” He smiled and told me to never give up and to keep writing. Now, I’m sure he’s said that to everyone who ever tells him that they are an aspiring author, but those words, along with what he’d said during the panel discussion just flipped a switch in my brain.

I left the autograph session, found the Vogler book at the festival and bought it, then went home and dug out an old short story I’d written in college. That evening, I used that story as the basis for my outline of the novel which would eventually become Griffin’s Daughter.

Were there other speculative fiction writers who influenced your writing or career in important ways?

I’m a huge fan of Kate Elliot. Reading her work is like taking a master class in fiction writing. She uses words like a painter uses colors, and she creates the most beautiful descriptive passages.

And, of course, there’s Tolkien, the gold standard to which all modern writers of a certain type of fantasy fiction are held. I happen to think it’s unfair to reflexively compare every novel that utilizes elves and other mythic races as characters with LOTR, but it’s done all the time, despite the fact that stories about elves, dwarves, fairies, and such have been around long before Tolkien ever set pen to paper. My elves are nothing like the rather cold and haughty beings of LOTR. They laugh, cry, eat, sleep, sweat, bleed, make love, give birth, and use the toilet; in short, they are like us except they have pointy ears.

Do readers ask whether half-elf, half-human Jelena, the main female character in the book, is really you?

Jelena is, of course, me in the sense that I created her and like any “daughter,” she does have aspects of my personality in her, but she’s not me in the greater sense. She is a biracial person and so am I, and one of the themes I explore in the story is how racism affects an individual of mixed race and how she copes with the hardships of living in a society that views her as inferior due to something beyond her control.

In the early part of the story, Jelena has internalized the negativity and believes she is, in fact, not as worthy as a so-called pureblooded person, but part of any good story is showing how characters grow and change. Jelena does a lot of growing and changing throughout the entire trilogy.

You chose a new small publisher, Avari Press, to publish your book. What did Avari do to market your book? What are you doing to market it?

Avari chose me, actually. I sent them my manuscript on a tip from a fellow writer. She’d heard that there was a new small press specializing in fantasy fiction that was calling for submissions. They read the book, loved it, and made me an offer.

Avari, being a small company, has a small promotional budget. No full-page ads in the L.A. Times, sadly! What they have done is send out copies of the book to such reviewers as Publishers Weekly, Locus, Kirkus, and The Library Journal, as well as to all the major fantasy book-review websites and blogs. The book did receive a favorable review in The Library Journal and on the Fantasy Debut blog.

My marketing efforts consist of things that don’t cost huge sums of money, because I don’t have a big budget either! I have a website, which just got a brilliant make-over, and I maintain a MySpace page. I have glossy postcards printed with the book cover that I’m constantly handing out. I’m also in the process of podcasting the novel, with my publisher’s blessing. I had a radio interview at a local public radio station here in Los Angeles shortly after the book came out. I’ve had several signings around town, and I participate as a speaker/panelist at our local sci-fi/fantasy convention, LosCon.

Probably the best thing I’ve done to create my marketing platform is to join the Greater Los Angeles Writers’ Society. It’s given me an entry into the L.A. Times Festival Of Books, which I can now attend as an author with selling privileges. That’s a huge advantage.

What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of a small publisher vs. a large publisher?

A small publisher will spend a lot more time with an author and give her/him a great deal of input into things such as cover art. An author would never get any say about the cover at a large publishing house. It’s the personal care I get as an author with Avari that’s so valuable to me. I get to talk directly to the president of the company and he consults me on most issues concerning my books. I’m not sure even the biggest name authors would ever get to talk directly to the presidents of the major houses.

The main disadvantage involves access to markets. The big bookstore chains rarely stock product from the small indie presses, so consequently, sales potential is reduced. Small presses have to rely on indie bookstores, which are, sadly, falling like flies—please, people, support your local indie bookstore if there’s one in your area!!!—or Amazon for the bulk of their sales, along with however many copies the author can sell her/himself at signings.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I used to only have time to write an hour or two on weekends or during my lunch break at work. I also took my laptop with me on every vacation. I was a full-time practicing veterinarian, which is a very demanding and stressful profession. However, recently, I’ve been able, financially, to make the choice to cut back to part-time status, so I can now devote one day a week solely to my literary career. I try to get any chores out of the way by 2:00 pm, and then I write, edit, work on my podcasts, or print story submissions for magazines—anything that has to do with my literary career.

If I had another free day, I’d devote one strictly to writing and the other to miscellaneous literary chores, but I don’t, so it all has to get done on one day. Consequently, I usually only write about three hours at a stretch, which is why it takes me so long to finish a project. Any aspiring writer has to find her/his own schedule that works best.

The only rule is to work on your literary career at least one day a week; that’s the bare minimum. If you can squeeze any time at all during your day to write a little bit, even if it’s only a few paragraphs, do so. Lunch breaks, early in the morning before going to work, after dinner when the family is asleep, grab that time and write. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything finished.

When will the next two volumes of the trilogy come out, and what will the next installment be about?

Griffin’s Shadow, the second book of the trilogy, will be released 2/27/09. The third book, Griffin’s Destiny, has no firm release date yet, but if Avari follows the same schedule, I expect it’ll be out sometime in early 2011.

Griffin’s Shadow continues the story right where Griffin’s Daughter left off. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read either of the books yet, but I can tell you that several new and pivotal characters will be introduced, and where GD was about finding love and acceptance, GS is about adversity and loss and how the main characters deal with them.

What was your favorite part of writing the Griffin’s Daughter trilogy?

I loved writing the love story. I’m a hopeless romantic, and my characters became like my own kids to me. I wanted to see them happy!

You have been on the front lines of podcasting as part of Clonepod. Clonepod releases new and previously published science fiction and fantasy short stories as podcasts. Why did you choose to take part in Clonepod? Is podcasting a better medium for fantasy and science fiction short stories than print or online magazines or just an additional outlet?

For a new and relatively unknown writer, podcasting may be the only medium in which to get one’s work out. I look at it as part of a continuum of outlets. There have been writers who’ve started out podcasting their short stories or novels and received such good buzz, they’ve come to the attention of publishers and editors and have gone on to place their work in print magazines, and a few have even gotten book contracts out of it. Those are the exceptions, of course, but it’s possible nonetheless.

I chose to work on Clonepod because, first, I wanted an outlet for my own short stories; second, I like doing voice-over work and wanted to get better; and third, I really like the other people who are involved. We’ve all become good friends.

I think podcasting will only get more popular and important a source as time goes on for all types of things that once were only in print—books, magazines, short stories, etc. As our lives get increasingly hectic and we have less and less time to sit down and read a book, being able to listen to a story on one’s MP3 player while performing another task will be very valuable.

Again, thanks, Leslie Ann, for stopping by my blog. I look forward to your return to talk more about Clonepod and how authors can submit their work.

Thank you, Shauna.

You can learn more about Leslie Ann and Griffin’s Daughter by visiting her Website at Her book is available from


I’ll be speaking on “Myth and Folktales in Science Fiction and Fantasy” at the Orange County Science Fiction Club on Wednesday, November 26 (the night before Thanksgiving), at 7:30 in Fullerton, California. Everyone is welcome to come. For directions, please see

11 November 2008

National Diabetes Month

November is National Diabetes Month. As a long-time writer on diabetes as well as the granddaughter of two people who died from complications of diabetes, I'd like to make you aware of the extent of the problem and what you can do to help yourself and your family.

The problem

Because of video games, fast food, jobs that use computers, larger servings at restaurants, and many, many other factors, Americans today are less active and weigh more than ever before.

Diabetes rates are shooting up as a result, particularly in the South. In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the rate of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes has nearly doubled in the past ten years. As a result, nearly 24,000,000 Americans now have diabetes. When I first started writing about diabetes, the number was 15,000,000.

Why you should care

You want to avoid getting diabetes if possible because it can lead to or contribute to a host of ills—eye disease, blindness, nerve disease, kidney disease, foot ulcers, amputation, digestive diseases, gum disease and other infections, tooth loss, heart attack, stroke, and depression—as well as disability and even death.

Risk factors

Type 2 diabetes (which is the kind 90% of people with diabetes have) usually comes about when genetic predisposition meets a diabetes-friendly environment.

Thus, your risk of diabetes is higher if it runs in your family or if you belong to an ethnic group particularly prone to getting diabetes. (In the United States, high-risk groups include blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians.)

Genetic predisposition alone is usually not enough to cause diabetes. It needs the right environment to manifest itself. Possible risk factors for type 2 diabetes include excess weight; excess fat around the stomach; a high-calorie diet; being 45 or older; physical inactivity; high blood pressure; high cholesterol levels; heavy alcohol use; lower income; less education; lower social class; living in an urban area; having had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds; and having had temporary diabetes during a pregnancy.

You can calculate your personal risk of diabetes with an interactive risk calculator provided by the American Diabetes Association at

Save your family, save yourself

You cannot change some risk factors. Still, even if you are at high risk, you can lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes and at the same time become healthier.

Lose weight if you are overweight. Any weight you lose will help, even if you are still overweight. To find out whether you or your children are overweight, use the calculators at

Eat a more healthful diet. To find out what the government currently considers a healthful diet, check out the 2005 Dietary Guidelines at

Burn more calories. A formal exercise program is not the only way to achieve this. Many household, gardening, and lawn chores are calorie burners. So are some fun activities such as sex, dancing, playing tennis, playing certain musical instruments, walking your dog, playing with your children, and walking around a shopping mall. The government’s 2008 report on physical fitness (with hints for increasing yours) can be found at

Know the symptoms. The earlier diabetes is caught, the earlier you can start taking steps to control it and so lessen your chances of complications. Not everyone who gets type 2 diabetes has symptoms. However, when they do, they have some of the following:
•increased thirst
•weight loss
•blurred vision
•frequent urination
•increased hunger
•sores that do not heal

03 November 2008

Equality and justice for all

I rarely mention politics on my blog. But tonight, with the polls so close on Proposition 8, I feel compelled to urge my California readers to vote "no" tomorrow on Prop 8.

The proponents of Prop 8 hope tomorrow to take an important constitutional right away from some Californians—the right to marry the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with.

When one person's rights are threatened, no one's rights are safe.

If tomorrow homosexuals lose rights and become second-class citizens, who will be next? Lefthanders? Like homosexuals, we are this way because of a biological predisposition, not by choice. Black people? Pigmentation, or lack thereof, is not a "lifestyle choice" either. Women? Not my choice either. The equipment was there when I was born.

Think my examples are extreme? It's happened before. Black people in many parts of the country lost rights during Reconstruction that they did not get back until during my lifetime and probably yours as well. The rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry were taken away during World War II—still within the lifetime of some of my readers. The rights of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were abrogated by our current president.

I believe no American should be a second-class citizen.

Please vote "no" on Prop 8.

Do it for Ellen, who has entertained you for years with her comedy.

Do it for your relatives, friends, and neighbors who are homosexual.

Do it for my relatives, friends, and neighbors who are homosexual.

Do it for your children to teach them that all Americans are first-class citizens and to ensure they can marry the person they love when they grow up.


When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

(English translation of a poem attributed Lutheran theologian Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller, who spent eight years in Nazi concentration camps)


Protect your rights by protecting the rights of others. Vote "no" on Prop 8.

28 October 2008

Evoking a sense of wonder

The tie that binds together speculative fiction—uniting the disparate genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, alternate history, myth, and, I would argue, often historical fiction—the golden fairy dust that transforms even run-of-the-mill prose into words of magic, a gateway to a new world, or a new way of seeing, is a sense of wonder.

None of my writing books contains the recipe for this fairy dust.

There are worksheets aplenty for creating characters, plots, conflicts, and other basic elements of novels, but I’ve yet to see one for creating a sense of wonder. Earlier in this blog, I discussed what makes a legend in my posts on Gilgamesh, John Henry, Black Bart the pirate, and El Cid (see Today I propose a list of elements (some of which overlap) that contribute to the reader’s sense of wonder.

Juxtaposition of the familiar and unfamiliar

“A vampire shouldn’t be afraid of the dark, he told himself. Yet the short walk from where a cab had let him off on Metairie Road through these gloomy woods, barely lit by a weak moon, had seriously creeped him out. He wished he’d worn a shawl. His lightweight linen dress and lace hosiery were fine for the Quarter, but here they left him feeling chilled. And the heels of his pumps sank into the gravel, nearly causing him to twist an ankle several times.”
—Andrew Fox, Bride of the Fat White Vampire (horror)

“The wargs chased the elf over Pittsburgh Scrap and Salvage’s tall chain-link fence shortly after the hyperphase gate powered down.”
—Wen Spencer, Tinker (fantasy)


“Surpassing all kings, powerful and tall beyond all others, violent, splendid, a wild bull of a man, unvanquished leader, hero in the front lines, beloved by soldiers—fortress they called him, protector of the people, raging flood that destroys all defenses—two-thirds divine and one-third human, . . .”
—Stephen Mitchell, editor, Gilgamesh (myth)

Appeal to the primitive part of the psyche that believes in magic

“Carrying the white crystal in her hand, Raeshaldis crossed the Court of the Novices through luminous blue darkness, climbed the rock-cut stairs still higher up the bluff. Well above the rest of the Citadel, she came into the Circle, the open space in which the rites of the Summoning of Rain were worked each spring.”
—Barbara Hambly, Circle of the Moon (fantasy)

Evocative or mood-altering language that conjures a different time or place

“Any human life lies in the future as well as in the past, of however short duration that future may prove to be; the two are hinged together like a door that swings, and that swinging is the present moment.”

“The ceiling was of wood, the work of Saracen carvers, very delicately fretted, with painted stars between the bosses. There was a thin band of Greek scrollwork in marble, running all round the walls, a frieze of tendrils and fronds.”

“It has been with me from my early days, this sense of a crossing point between man and God that can lie in the work of hands. And on that April morning, still, the touch of heaven was the touch of my King, whose power was celebrated in that wood and that stone. My trance of mind was wonder at Gold’s power and the King’s; the voices around me still sounded, now loud, now soft, but the voice I heard was that unwavering one of majesty.”
—all three examples from Barry Unsworth, The Ruby in her Navel (historical fiction)

Appeal to the belief that there are wonders in the world yet to be discovered

“The tendon at the base of Kargen’s war-spike ached. He flattened the heavy quills that armored his back and sides, and stepped out of the tree to drop quietly toward the earth. Falling, his thoughts were on the weak, and on how they must be eliminated if his people were to survive.”
—Charles Gramlich, Cold in the Light (horror)

“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”

“Henna was thirteen when she was gleefully married off to the eldest son of one of the best families in Calcutta, and her marriage was achieved by an audacious network of lies as elaborate and brazen as the golden embroidery on her scarlet wedding sari.”
—Roopa Farooki, Bitter Sweets: A Novel (contemporary fiction)

“Sister glared at Na-tanh, Corn Flower, sprawled on his stomach in a curdled puddle of half-digested beans and bad booze. If she put the chile powder into his breechclout now, he probably wouldn’t even notice it. He looked dead, but he snored like a bear. He had made himself stupid with pulque, a brew that smelled worse than old moccasins.”
—Lucia St. Clair Robson, Ghost Warrior (historical fiction)

A place whose rules are unknown, either to the reader or to the character

“Papa was dead, and they had to move to the country when Mama’s year of mourning was up. Now that Papa was dead, Mama said, they didn’t own the house any longer. It seemed strange that someone they had never met could own a house that had always been theirs.”
—Caroline Roe, A Potion for a Widow (historical mystery)

“Among the Blood, males were meant to serve, not to rule. He had never challenged that, despite the number of witches he’d killed over the centuries. He had killed them because it was an insult to serve them, because he was an Eyrien Warlord Prince who wore Ebon-gray Jewels and refused to believe that serving and groveling meant the same thing.”
—Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood (fantasy)

“He had never seen human food, he didn’t know what to do. Then Shamhat said, ‘Go ahead, Enkidu. This is food, we humans eat and drink this.’ Warily he tasted the bread. Then he ate a piece, he ate a whole loaf, then ate another, he ate until he was full, drank seven pitchers of the beer. . . .”
—Stephen Mitchell, editor, Gilgamesh (myth)

The road not taken

“Some of the silver and copper coins he set on the counter bore the images of Isabella and Albert, others—the older, more worn, ones—that of the deposed Elizabeth, who still languished in the Tower of London, only a furlong or so from where Shakespeare stood.”
—Harry Turtledove, Ruled Britannia (alternative history)

Extrapolation from today into the future

“From Mahout Station he took a bus. Fuel-cell powered, electric-engine drive, it contributed no emissions to befoul the already dangerously polluted urban air. Sanjay was able to breathe freely as he stepped off, however. It was nearing the end of the monsoon season, and recent rains had washed the atmosphere above the city blissfully free of contaminants. If the climate was kind, he would not have to wear his face mask for another month or two.”
—Alan Dean Foster, Sagramanda: A Novel of Near-Future India (science fiction)

The “wow!” factor: gadgets, gizmos, magic, surprises, and other cool stuff

“The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd.”
—Charles Stross, Singularity Sky (science fiction)

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.”
—John Scalzi, Old Man’s War (science fiction)

“Krebs winced when Fluff, or maybe it was Puff, looked up at him. Its ears stood straight up and drool slid down over its teeth, dripping onto the hardwood floor. “If they leave any bunny slipper turds around you have to clean them up.”
—Linda Wisdom, 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover (romance)

Description that hones in on the alien, the strange, the exotic, the extraordinary
See every example above

I’m curious: Do you agree? Would you add other factors or subtract some of mine from the list? Do you have any techniques for adding wonder to your writing?

22 October 2008

My Town Wednesday: Santa Ana winds

“My Town Monday” is the brainchild of Travis Erwin at One Word, One Rung, One Day. The goal is to introduce one's blog readers to what’s special about the place where one lives.

Imagine a snowstorm in Chicago in the dead of winter, but take out the cold and snow.

Imagine a tropical storm in New Orleans, but take out the rain and humidity.

What you have left is the Santa Ana winds—hot, dry, howling winds that blast Southern California in fall and winter, knocking down trees, ripping roofs off buildings, flipping over trucks, and drying out the already arid region. The winds, thick with desert dust, make breathing difficult and coat homes inside and out with a brown film.

During the Santa Ana winds, fire looms as a major threat, particularly in October. The winds dry out vegetation, making it catch fire more easily. Once a fire starts, the fierce winds feed oxygen to the fire and enlarge it, and they also help it spread by blowing sparks to new spots. The result can be acres and acres of devastation, lost forests, and hundreds of people left homeless.

A Santa Ana wind starts in the deserts of Nevada and Utah when the weather is cool and the air pressure high. The high-pressure system pushes air southward and downward toward Los Angeles. As the air goes downhill, it compresses and heats up. Meanwhile, its humidity level drops, and the dry air sucks moisture from plants and bare skin.

To make matters worse, the wind’s voyage takes it through canyons and between mountains, constricting it and making it race at average speeds above 30 or 40 miles per hour.

Each episode of Santa Ana winds lasts only a few days. Fog sometimes follows.

“Santa Ana” is Spanish for “Saint Anne.” The early settlers did not blame the winds on the saint, who, according to Wikipedia, has a broad patronage that includes carpenters, childless people, equestrians, grandparents, homemakers and housewives, lace makers, people moving to new homes, old-clothes dealers, seamstresses, and stablemen, among others. Rather, the winds may be named after one of the places they hit, the Santa Ana Canyon in Orange County.

Other theories for the name abound, however. Because the winds are also called the Santana winds, some people argue that the name means “devil’s winds.” In Spanish, Satanás is one of the words for “Satan.”


Next week’s topic: evoking a sense of wonder in your writing

15 October 2008

Whack-A-Mole Writer

Whack! I finish a draft of my book. Hooray! Uh, oh. Up pops a deadline for a proposal.

Whack! I get an ophthalmologist appointment out of the way. Hooray! Uh, oh. Up pops three follow-up eye appointments and a prescription to take to the pharmacy.

Whack! I clear enough work from my schedule that I can spend my weekend on chores. Hooray! Uh, oh. Up pops a cold that immobilizes me for both days.

I wish that, like the kids’ game, there were only four moles in my Whac-A-Mole life. But instead, the moles seem limitless. Anything I shove into my tight schedule pops something else out. Now that I work on my fiction every weekday, moles are flying everywhere.

Exercise? I think it landed behind the couch.

Hobbies? Duck! Some chores just went flying.

Reading about the craft of writing? Only at the expense of actual writing and chores my husband wishes I would do.

Reading in my genre to stay abreast of trends? In doctors’ waiting rooms and just before bed when I’m too tired to do anything else.

Reading for fun? I look forward to getting so sick that I can’t do anything more strenuous than hold a book.

Does anyone else lead a Whac-A-Mole life? Anybody have any hints for stuffing more moles into a 24-hour box?

08 October 2008

My Town Wednesday: Stuff in my yard


“My Town Monday” is the brainchild of Travis Erwin at One Word, One Rung, One Day. The goal is to introduce one's blog readers to what’s special about the place where one lives.

Because this is a busy week, instead of writing a blog post, I'll share some photos of roses in my yard with you.

Roses grew well in humid New Orleans, so I expected to have a hard time with them in the Southern California desert. Instead, here in Riverside roses grow even better than in New Orleans, as long as one remembers to water them. (Yes, I did lose a few rose plants at first.)

Because the Santa Ana winds blew away most of my plant tags and because the yard already had several rose bushes, I only know the identities of a few of these roses. If anyone can identify any others, please let me know what they are.

Souvenir de la Malmaison (Bourbon, 1843)

Mr. Lincoln (Hybrid Tea, 1964)

Anonymous roses


Contest update

The winner of the Jade Lee book give-away is Scott Hall of Blog of the Beast. Congratulations, Scott, and thank you, everyone who entered.

01 October 2008

Interview—and book give-away—with award-winning romance writer Jade Lee

Jade Lee's newest historical romance novel, The Dragon Earl (Leisure Books, Dorchester), is a Regency with a twist: The hero was stranded in China as a boy and has trained to be a Buddhist monk. The heroine meets him when he interrupts her wedding, claiming to be the earl she is supposed to be marrying. Earlier this year, Jade published Dragonborn (Love Spell), the first in a new paranormal romance series, and The Tao of Sex (Harlequin Blaze). Her first books were published under the name Katherine Greyle.

Welcome to my blog, Jade, congratulations on your recent books and new series. Thank you also for giving away a book to one of my blog readers.

In 2003, when you decided to reinvent yourself as Jade Lee, what were your goals?

Goals? Are we supposed to have goals? Actually, I just wanted to write something very sexy just to see if I could. Devil's Bargain was about the steamy, sexy underbelly of Regency England. It's a training of a courtesan book, and I just loved writing it. My editor loved the book, but worried that fans of Katherine Greyle (light, funny regencies à la Julia Quinn) would be shocked and horrified by the shift to dark sensuality. So . . . a new pen name.

And, btw, anyone looking to find a pen name: Google it first! Yeah, Google wasn't so big when I started Jade Lee, so I forgot to check on the Internet for it. Jade Lee is the name of a very big porn star. No lie. That's why my Website is

Most of your recent books take place in China or have a character from China. Did you need to persuade your editor to let you set a book outside the traditional historical romance locales?

Actually, I never intended to leave Regency England. Love it there (and am very glad to return in The Dragon Earl). But my editor heard me talking about my grandmother's funeral in Hong Kong. It was a bizarre experience because of some of the wacky traditions my senile grandmother wanted (such as forty-nine days of crying and an auspicious burial date . . . which was three weeks away . . . in August . . . in Hong Kong. Hard to keep a body on ice that long!). Anyway, Chris Keeslar (editor extraordinaire) wanted me to explore writing in a Chinese setting. I was resistant. I'm both Chinese and American (Indiana Hoosier, on my father's side). In my mindset from childhood, Americans stood up and were counted; Chinese girls sat down, stayed silent, and looked pretty. I failed on all three Chinese counts, so why would I want to explore that repressive, horrible society?

Turns out, my Chinese heritage is so much more interesting than I ever imagined. And that whole repressive aspect actually made the exploration of sensuality with the Tigresses all that more interesting. I just had to try! Push past my comfort zone. Talk to my mother! So, the Tigress series was born. And then it turns out that there's a lot more to explore. Go figure! Someone should have told me that China has a vast and diverse history! Oh, wait, maybe my mother did . . . .

With The Dragon Earl, you return to the Regency romances you wrote as Katherine Greyle. Was that because you missed writing about England or for some other reason?

I missed England and the Regency. Plus, the Tigresses had run their course. I was looking for something new. But I got to bring Chinese martial arts into the Regency, so yippee!

Your Tigress series of historical romances explores the Dragon-Tigress religious sect in old China. Could you explain briefly what this sect is and why it fascinates you?

Because tantrics are fun! The Tigress sect actually exists. There's even a temple now in California. The following is a huge simplification, but here goes:

All Buddhists are looking to elevate their spirits to merge with the Great One (my name for it, btw). Traditional Buddhists do this by living pure lives, dropping away the yuck, and hoping to elevate their spirit through meditation. The fighting Buddhists use the discipline of martial arts to help elevate their spirit. The tantrics (and tigresses/dragons) use the excitement of sex to elevate their spirit.

Cool, huh? Now put what we might call a sex cult into that repressive Chinese society, and you've got a ripe field for conflict. Also remember that even well past the Victorian age, many Chinese people were taught that the whites were a kind of monkey. They didn't even realize the whites had names for "father," "mother," "sister," or "brother" because monkey colonies appear to be big communes. So . . . imagine the fun of having a white woman convince a Chinese man that she is more than a monkey. She's actually his equal! And that doesn't even begin to address the prejudices on the English side regarding the Chinese. All this gave me a very rich field in which to play!

Most of your books have required substantial research. Were you able to research your Tigress books here, or did you need to go to China? Do you have any suggestions for efficient research?

I've been to China many times, so I didn't need to go again. And I had my mother right here in the US to ask questions about Shanghai. She grew up there. But, of course, she didn't know about the tigress cult, so that I had to research. In fact, the whole concept came when I was wandering through a museum bookstore. Hsi Lai's book The Sexual Teachings of the White Tigress literally fell on my foot. I picked it up and the rest is history!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I have two pieces of advice for new writers:
  1. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Get a writing habit and stick to it. Eventually you will break in!
  2. How do you become a writer? Just sit down and write. Just write . . . every day.

How do you write so many books a year?

Caffeine. Plus the daily habit. Yes, daily, even weekends. There is no magic bullet except to write, to learn, and to write some more. Eventually you'll pick up techniques that speed the process, you'll learn ways to build conflict quickly and sustain it better, and your strengths will get stronger, your weaknesses fade away, and then you will be able to leap tall editor piles in a single bound!

The Dragon Earl ends with a satisfying resolution for the hero and heroine, but loose ends still dangle for a couple of the other characters. Are you planning any sequels?

Oh yes! I'll get to Christopher's story for The Dragon Earl soon! No title yet, but it's coming!

Thank you, Jade, for visiting my blog today to talk about writing and your new books.

It was great fun! Thanks for having me!

Jade may be dropping by during the day, so feel free to leave questions for her.

Now for the contest: Post a response to this blog by 11:50 pm Pacific time on Sunday, 5 October, and you will be entered to win your choice of The Dragon Earl (historical romance set in England in the Regency period) or Dragonborn (fantasy romance), courtesy of Jade Lee. Thanks, Jade!

Learn more about Jade and her books at her Website at and her blog at Her book The Dragon Earl is available at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.


Great News

Carleen Brice, whom I interviewed here in March about her debut novel Orange Mint and Honey, was honored as Breakout Author of the Year at the African American Literary Awards Show. Way to go, Carleen!

23 September 2008

Interview with historical fiction author Mingmei Yip

Mingmei Yip is a novelist, a children's book writer and illustrator, a qin musician, a painter, and a calligrapher. She received her doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris and taught in universities in China before immigrating to the United States. Her first novel written in English, Peach Blossom Pavilion, was published in June 2008 by Kensington. Only seven weeks after its release, Peach Blossom Pavilion went into its fourth printing.

Mingmei, many thanks for visiting my blog, and congratulations on the publication of your seventh book and first novel, Peach Blossom Pavilion.

How do you balance your life as a writer with your life as a musician, artist, and calligrapher? Do they compete for your energy, or do they complement each other and make you more productive overall?

My several interests do compete for my energy but also complement each other. Since I cannot do everything at once, setting priorities is very important for me. I’ve learned to focus on the specific interest that needs attention at a particular time and temporarily put aside the others. So when I have a writing deadline, I’ll stop painting to give my full attention to writing. I minimize distractions and often write all day and into the evening. Similarly, when preparing for a concert I play from morning until bedtime.

My interests do inspire each other. In my novel, Peach Blossom Pavilion, I introduced all the arts that I’ve been practicing since I was a teenager—music, calligraphy, painting, and poetry.

You were trained in many of the same arts as your heroine, the courtesan Precious Orchid, but in a very different China. Are there ways in which your lives have been similar?

Although I was born and grew up in Hong Kong, then a British Colony, I consider myself very lucky to have been trained in these traditional arts by masters from China who were heirs to the 3,000-year-old Chinese traditions. Those accomplished in these arts included not only men but also high-society ladies and their fallen counterparts—artistic courtesans, or Geishas. The old Chinese culture still exists but one must make the effort to seek it out.

Peach Blossom Pavilion required substantial research. Do you have any suggestions for not getting bogged down in research at the expense of writing time?

Yes, research does take up a fair amount of writing time. Fortunately, because I have been fascinated by Chinese culture since my teens, I have been accumulating knowledge and rare books on the subjects I used for my novel. I did go to China twice to research Peach Blossom Pavilion because I needed materials not available here.

Research can be endless, however, so my advice is to do just enough to put yourself in the minds of your characters, but not more than this. If you are really fascinated by your subject, as I am, then you may just have to set a limit when you stop researching and start writing.

Why did you choose to write about the last Chinese courtesans before the Communist Revolution? What about that time period or life intrigued you?

Most Americans know about the Japanese Geishas but almost none know about their Chinese counterparts. While Japanese geisha culture still has remnants today, that of their Chinese counterparts has passed into history, and I wanted to give voice to these women whose lives were both splendid and miserable. Indeed, Peach Blossom Pavilion is the only novel about this aspect of Chinese women’s lives. Their determination to make the best of their lot deeply moved me.

There are many books about modern China, which is also fascinating, but readers in the West should be able to read about the rich traditional culture that preceded the introduction of McDonalds and Coke.

Writing in a language that is not your native tongue must have presented many challenges. What problems did you face, and how did you solve them?

Most challenging for me in writing in English language is grammar, since that doesn’t really exist in Chinese. So when I started to write, I took as many grammar classes as I could afford. I also read as much in English as I can so as to develop a sense of the beauty and rhythm of the language. Whenever I notice some perfectly rendered sentences in terms of structure, rhythm, sound, etc., I’ll try to copy them or even memorize them as models.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

Since I am something of a free spirit, my schedule is pretty erratic. When I’m inspired I can write up to ten hours a day. I usually take a nap to refresh myself. I don’t need caffeinated drinks or music to keep me energized. When I’m completely focused, that’s caffeine in itself! Nor do I need alcohol to unwind; playing the qin does that for me. Since inspiration often comes to me in dreams, I keep a special pen with a light by the bed so when I wake up in the middle of the night I can jot down these evanescent images.

Why do you love the qin more than other musical instruments?

The qin is the most ancient string instrument in China with over 2,500 years of history. Because it is an icon of Chinese culture, it was chosen to be played in the recent Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. Qin music, meditative and subtly layered, relaxes me.

I have also composed qin music for lyrics by ancient Chinese poets and myself, which I sing to my own accompaniment. Samples of my singing and playing can be heard on my website.

What are you planning to write about for your next book in English?

My next novel is already completed. It is a Buddhist love story in which I mix romance with Buddhist ideas such as illusion, non-attachment, enlightenment, and nirvana. I have just started my third novel, the story of a young woman who unexpectedly inherits five million dollars from a stranger, then travels to remote China, seeking her unknown benefactress. This is a spiritual, mystical adventure story that came to me in one of my dreams.

Thank you again for visiting my blog to talk about Peach Blossom Pavilion.

Mingmei Yip's Website is Peach Blossom Pavilion is available at bookstores and at and Barnes & Noble.

Her children's book Chinese Children's Favorite Stories, which she also illustrated, is available in bookstores, at and Barnes & Noble, and in some museum bookstores.

21 September 2008

Contest winners

My husband drew names from a baseball cap, and the winners of my birthday blast contest are MICHELE CWIERTNY and RAE ANN PARKER.


Choose any book (not just the featured book) available at by any of the authors I've posted interviews with or will post one with soon (see list on previous post), and I'll get it out to you this week.

Thank you, everyone, for entering.

17 September 2008

Birthday blast contest

48th birthday: spent on evacuation from Hurricane Ivan

49th birthday: spent on evacuation from Hurricane Katrina

50th birthday: spent putting our house and lives back together after Hurricane Katrina

51st birthday: spent in an empty house in California, where we moved to get away from hurricanes

52nd birthday: furnished house! no hurricane! hurrah!

To celebrate the unusual event of having a normal birthday, I’m taking the day off to refill my well (for you non-writers, that means relaxing and reading) and to rejoice in the benefits of being 52: no need to look for Prince Charming (already found him), no angst over what to do with my life (write), and toughened up enough by life to withstand whatever the future brings.

Now for the contest: Just comment on today’s post by 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, 20 September, and you’ll be entered. Two posters will be chosen at random to win a book of their choice (must be available at by any author I’ve interviewed:

historical fiction author Mingmei Yip:
coming soon

historical romance writer Jade Lee:
coming soon

fiction writer Amy MacKinnon:

historical romance writer Lynna Banning:

mystery writer Ed Lynskey:

mystery writer June Shaw:

fiction writer Carleen Brice:

fiction writer Therese Fowler:

historical romance writer Jennifer Blake:

romance writer Hailey North:

historical mystery writer Laura Joh Rowland:

humorist Christee Gabour Atwood:

historical mystery writer Candice Proctor:

speculative fiction writer Charles Gramlich:

romance writer Farrah Rochon:

Want to win a book? Ask a question. Answer a question. Tell me what you think about getting older. Tell me why you like (or dislike) your current age. Even type your name. Any comment will enter you in the contest.

And now, please excuse me while I retire to my reading nook with a cup of tea and a book.